The city of Avondale terminated an employee who—upset that he would have to use his personal leave time to quarantine—allegedly threatened to go to work, even if he had COVID-19.
Jesse Torres of Litchfield Park vehemently denied the allegations, stating in an email to the city “my coworkers are my family” and he would never endanger them.
The city did not accept his explanation and fired him, according to records provided to the West Valley View.
The case began March 22, when Torres told his Public Works supervisor he had a fever and a cough and would not be at work the next day. His supervisor encouraged him to follow city policy.
According to a termination letter sent to Torres, “On Monday, March 23, you reported to work, despite your call-out to your supervisor the night before. You were sent home by your lead person due to your coughing.”
On March 26, Torres called the city’s human resources department to ask if he could self-quarantine for 14 days without using personal leave time.
He told the city he had recently been exposed to another person who had been infected by the coronavirus.
After a staff member told Torres he would have to use his personal leave while quarantining, “You were angered by her response,” the letter stated.
“You threatened to return to work, so you would be paid, even if recent COVID-19 testing showed that you were positive for the disease. You said you could do so without telling the city about your condition as you could refuse to disclose the results of testing pursuant to your rights under the Health Provisions Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).”
Shortly after, Torres was notified he was being placed on administrative leave and being investigated for making threats related to COVID-19.
Torres then wrote an email to human resources stating “the safety of my coworkers was more important than the leave I would be using.”
The termination letter Avondale sent Torres summarized his email: “You said that you were ‘shocked’ to learn that you were being investigated for COVID-19 related threats and that you ‘would never, knowingly expose anybody in my community let alone my coworkers who have become my family.’”
He reiterated this during an interview with an investigator.
The city rejected Torres’ version, siding with the human resources employee and Torres’ supervisor, both painting a picture of Torres as angry, confrontational and threatening.
“In your email of March 29, you profess your concern for the safety of your coworkers, your ‘family’ you call them, who you claim are more important to you than your leave balances. The fact is, however, you made a threat to return to work after testing positive for COVID-19, a threat to the very group you claim to care so much about,” the termination letter stated.
“There is no escaping the gravity of the threat you made given the circumstances in which we find Avondale and the entire nation. ... You had been tested and you thought you could protect the confidentiality of your results from discovery by the city through the application of the HIPAA rules. You possessed the tools to implement the threat.”